The inspiration of Harriet Tubman

I want to talk about Harriet Tubman, one of the most celebrated freedom fighters in American history, whose story Harriet has only now made it onto the big screen. I don’t need to put a spoiler alert on this because most Americans, if not others, know her story. It’s as relevant as ever and has inspired me anew to get over myself and “keep on keepin’ on”.

For the time-pressed amongst you, don’t bother reading this article lol — just listen to the movie anthem, Stand Up:

I’ll start with this overview from ST, who watched the movie with me:

“The anthem has the power of someone who has just stood up on principal — and owns it. This is the story of someone who does not identify with what is done – only what is to be done. It is a story of courage and righteous determination. It is a story of a leader who didn’t take No for an answer. She was aware it was not going to be easy but was willing to give her last life drop to save others – with her own hands. She was so laser focused on what she needed to accomplish that her own self barely rated a mention. She was selfless, compassionate, loving, and brave. To me, she is a genuine inspiration: her focus and determination and fearless action. All this while having been a slave, been a woman, in the 1800’s, against all odds she surmounted.

I ask myself, would I have been as brave? Would I have thrown myself into that life, in that place and time, as she did? And I have to conclude that it would be poorly at best – given that although I know Dharma and I trust Geshe-la, I have not plugged like that into refuge, renunciation, and bodhichitta. And yet my life evaporates before my own eyes.”

If you have time, read on …

Life in bondage

I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.

Harriet in slavery daysIn early life, Harriet experienced the countless horrors of a life in bondage. She and her family were beaten, sold, humiliated, and constantly ill due to poor conditions and endless struggles.

Although slavery was all she knew, somehow Harriet knew it was not right. She came to realize that she was destined for something else. Born a slave, she yet had a vision of freedom.

We samsaric beings, too, are born enslaved. We are all in bondage. Now is not the time to appease the slave holders but to stand up. Don’t ignore that voice inside you that says you are born to bigger things. Harriet didn’t.

Harriet Tubman quotation 1.jpg

Owning others

God don’t mean people to own people. 

Harriet’s relationship with Gideon Brodess, the chilling young slaveholder, was complicated – he seemed to envy her and love her and hate her. He was torn. They grew up together. She might have saved his young life with her fervent bedside prayers; he’ll never know. He knew her humanity and probably even her superiority, but was raised in a belief system whereby he was the superior, her master and OWNER! He knew this was not true on one level, but he also got a kick out of thinking, “You’re amazing, but I own you.”

How can one human being absurdly feel that they own another? Only by “othering” them and labelling them less than a human (at most two-thirds of a human); so he had to liken her ridiculously to a pig. Yet at the same he recognized her power – for one thing, his father had just dropped dead, and he didn’t know if it was because of her prayers that God smote him.

Why do we ever feel the compulsion to “own” another living being and/or (ab)use them for our own purposes? There is no justification for it. It is always just ignorance. It stems from the so-called view of the transitory collection conceiving “I” and “mine”. Because we have a strong sense of I, we also have a strong sense of mine, which is grasping at I in the possessive mode, “I’s”, or “of me”. The stronger this ignorant sense of an inherently existent self and mine, the stronger the sense of other and possession; and the more our self-cherishing unreliably informs us that this “other/possession” is less important than self.

(Technical aside: “view of the transitory collection” simply means we observe the transitory, fleeting collection of body and mind parts, not one of which is the self, and project or view a real, inherently existent self there where there isn’t one.)

Does thinking we own other people make us more free or more powerful? Of course not, ignorance does the opposite. And are abusers ever off the hook – how do they really sleep at night or look at themselves in the mirror, what fantasies about themselves do they have to concoct and then constantly sustain to make their life feel even remotely right? Gideon’s mother, for example, looked about as tense as it is possible for a human being to be even when things were supposedly still going her way. Not to mention the hideous karma.

As said here, of course, it is not other living beings but delusions that are the real slaveholders. While the delusions grasping at I and mine run the show, we will continue to treat each other badly and create worlds of suffering for ourselves at the same time. Because Buddhas and Bodhisattvas understand that people are not their delusions, their love and compassion for everyone (even psychopaths!) never wavers. And they work on two levels – going to the assistance of those in need with fierce love and compassion, but also and always keeping their sights on liberating everyone permanently from the actual causes of all suffering.

Do you really want to be free?

Not everyone Harriet tried to help wanted to be helped. In the movie, at least, her sister Rachel, for example, seemed to opt to keep her head under the radar as much she could and just find ways to withstand the terrible treatment until her death.

What’s the difference between a Harriet and a Rachel? Rachel knew her situation was atrocious so why did she deny herself any hope of release, even when her sister came all the way back for her?

I don’t claim to know about Rachel per se, or all the other slaves in her position. Rachel’s situation was going to be very dangerous whatever she decided. However, this scene made me wonder not so much about Rachel but about myself. Am I just going through the motions of renunciation and bodhichitta? Do these go deep enough? Am I free? Am I a freedom fighter? Or am I someone who knows life can be extremely painful but still doesn’t have a deep enough wish to escape, thinking I will just try to put up with my lot till death sets me free? Neglecting also to think about the even greater slavery and bondage I will be subject to in future lives, that the only difference between me and someone more obviously enslaved is time?

In other words, do I really get how unfree I am? That not just samsara’s pains but its reliefs are totally deceptive and irredeemable, houses of cards at best?

The black slave catcher also rejected salvation. Even in the inspiring presence of a courageous freedom fighter, he didn’t want to leave and he didn’t want anyone else to leave either. Am I like that — aiding and abetting samsara’s wardens in the hope of some perverse affection or reward, like someone with Stockholm syndrome?

Stand Up

Harriet managed to escape from her slaveholders in Maryland in 1849. As she jumped to an uncertain fate in the rushing river, rather than go back to Brodess who was slickly trying to convince her he wouldn’t hurt her, she declared:

I’m going to live free or die! 

Imagine having that zero tolerance for the despicable, slick, and heartless enemy of samsara, not trying to keep appeasing it or hoping against all odds for the best. Harriet had the deepest renunciation for slavery and an option to try and do something about it, which then translated into compassion for others in the same situation.

The underground hero Reverend Green — who preached obedience in front of the slave owners as a cover to enable Harriet and others to escape – had said to her:

There’s not much time. You got to be miles away from here till dawn. Follow that north star. If there are no stars, just follow the river. Listen for them. Fear is your greatest enemy. 

And, having defeated that greatest enemy, Harriet finally crossed into Pennsylvania, later describing that moment:

When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven. 

Harriet’s faith

Harriet as MosesShe was indubitably guided by her faith, her faith increasing with her fear, like refuge does. The sun of her faith kept her always pointed in a positive direction:

I been walking with my face turned to the sun.

Did she have narcolepsy or seizures or even “possible brain damage” as stated in abolitionist William Still’s initial report on her? It doesn’t really matter. If our faith makes other people think we’re a little different or crazy it doesn’t matter because, as the singer Seal puts it:

No we’re never gonna survive, unless
We are a little crazy.

Apparent craziness = sanity, when it comes to disbelieving samsara’s fairy tales and following our Spiritual Guide out of here.

And I know what’s around the bend
Might be hard to face ’cause I’m alone.
And I just might fail
But Lord knows I tried
Sure as stars fill up the sky.

Like Harriet, we need a deepening faith and refuge whenever things go wrong, in the very middle of danger and pain. We can trust more in blessings and open ourselves more to being guided. It worked for her and for the thousands of people who trusted her.

 It wasn’t me, it was the Lord! I always told Him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,’ and He always did.

JW, an African American friend mentioned here, just told me while we were discussing this movie:

“I don’t know if this was in the movie, but Harriet was asked to lead the raid on Harper’s Ferry during the Civil War by abolitionist John Brown. She didn’t go for some unknown reason. Fortunately for her, she didn’t go, because the group was captured and many of the group were executed, including John Brown.”

Holy beings seemed to be protecting her till a ripe old age. Our faith protects us. I feel I’ve had a couple of near misses myself that are hard to account for without some divine intervention.

We already have Buddha nature that is not of this world, not of samsara. Within it, we can come to feel the connection to holy beings, to enlightenment. The sooner we tune in and relate to that, the sooner we will wake up from this horror story.

Take my people with me

My father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were in Maryland. But I was free, and they should be free.  

Harriet escoring slavesEven though Harriet made it to a new life and a fresh start, she couldn’t rest easy knowing her people continued to endure doomed lives as slaves. So despite the strong protestations of William Hill, she went back with a suit to fetch her beloved husband. Only to discover that he had married another woman.

At first full of doubt and emotional agony, she said:

Why, Lord, did you bring me all this way to rub mud in my face? 

But then she realized, through the pain, that the suit must have been meant for someone else. God had other plans for her.

When things don’t go our way, they can be the catalyst to a far more meaningful life. Not to mention, as Marie, her friend in Pennsylvania, says later:

What’s a man to a woman touched by God?

Although her husband lost out, Harriet still used her karmic circle as her starting point. She was not afraid of her fondness for her family and relatives — in fact it spurred her on to rescue all the others.

Harriet’s brother: Why are you back here? It ain’t safe.
Harriet: I come to get you. Bring all of you to freedom.

When it comes to helping others we need to start with where and with whom we are. This is also modern Buddhism. Not afraid to work with our karmic circle, we have to help the people in our orbit, but still come to take whoever wants to come — using our heartfelt karmic connections as a portal to the bigger cosmos of all living beings.

One of the 8 precepts observed by an aspiring Bodhisattva is, “not to abandon any living being.” And Harriet — focused not on who had been freed but who had not, and even when it made the journey a lot more challenging — always had room in her mission for one more.

I do what I can when I can while I can for my people.

Harriet became a conductor on the Underground Railroad — a network of secret routes and safe houses destined to help those enslaved during the 19th century first to the Northern free states and later, when the despicable Fugitive Slave Law was adopted in political concession to the Southerners, to Canada instead. She made an endless string of round-trip journeys down to the South in a disguise and with the nickname Moses, rescuing more and more slaves with each miraculous expedition.

Fearless, Harriet avoided cops, dogs, mobs, bounty hunters, and slave catchers. She and her escapees slept in swamps and moved only at night. She inspired huge courage, crossing the river when she had no real idea if she’d drown, but knowing it was the only way to encourage her people to follow her out of there.

I’m wading through muddy waters
You know I got a made up mind. 

To be honest, as things stand at present, I’d prefer not to have to run around like that my whole life as I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. But what I do want is that fearless determination and commitment, that lack of apathy and complacency, that self-confidence, and that faith in being guided every step of the way. Harriet has inspired me to take renunciation and engaging bodhichitta more seriously. To be less wimpy about wading through the muddy waters of samsara to the brand new home of liberation and bringing everyone with me.

There is a verse in Offering to the Spiritual Guide about the mentality of joyful effort:

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort
By striving for supreme enlightenment with unwavering compassion;
Even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell
For many aeons for the sake of each being.

This doesn’t mean that we have to be reborn as an actual hell being, but that a Bodhisattva will go back to the lower realms again and again until everyone is liberated. Harriet was not about her own personal safety. She was free, but she was compelled. Her compassion gave her no choice but to keep going back.

I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.  

Keep on keeping on

Harriet was black and female in a very white male world. But she didn’t let any man get one over on her. Not Gideon, not her husband, not her brother, not the abolitionists, not anyone who spoke down to her. She earned huge respect.

I made it this far on my own, so don’t you tell me what I can’t do.

Harriet never learned to read or write, but despite all odds she was the only conductor to never lose a slave. She was a Union spy during the Civil War. She was the first woman ever to lead a combat assault, rescuing 750 people. Her knowledge of the local flora in Maryland led her to find a cure for Union troops suffering from dysentery. She became a suffragette. She was penniless until old age. She died at a charity home she had founded in Auburn, New York.

All told, she was an unstoppable force for good.

Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going. 

What motivated her? JS told me that she was saying to someone, “I watched Harriet and loved her compassion,” only to have the person reply: “No, Harriet was very angry.” JS (and me) disagree heartily. Anger has no good qualities because the mind is egotistical and distorted and Harriet was amazingly selfless and clear-headed. If Harriet had been angry she might have killed Gideon (or the white family) when she had the chance, but instead she gave him a teaching. It is perfectly possible to be both fierce and compassionate, in fact it can be required. There’s an important distinction to be made between anger and non-deluded wrath, and Harriet is a good example of the latter.

There are four types of non-deluded pride, or self-confidence; and one way or another Harriet seemed to exemplify them all. Her courage and passion grew over the years and decades, just like ours can. Far from being vain, between God on the one side and all the slaves on the other there wasn’t much room left over for ego. Harriet’s sense of identity was mixed with a greater good. This selflessness impressed people so much that they came over to her cause, including a previous slave catcher.

Notably, to me at least, Harriet Tubman suffered from terrible headaches from an injury inflicted upon her by a slave owner – but still she carried on. Arguably it drove her on with even more empathy. Using Dharma, such as renunciation, compassion, and wisdom, to transform adverse conditions into the spiritual path makes our mind into a blacksmith’s anvil, which doesn’t get affected however hard it is hit.

Stand up

That’s when I’m going to stand up
Take my people with me
Together we are going to a brand new home
Right across the river
Can you hear freedom calling
Calling to me to answer
Gotta keep on keeping on. 

This is what ST has to say about this epic anthem chorus for all Bodhisattvas in training:

“These lines remind me of the superior intention of a Bodhisattva, taking personal responsibility, because everyone, just like me, wants happiness and freedom from suffering. Through this we will make it to the Pure Land, the experience of a pure mind free from the bondage of the delusions. We will cross the river of samsara, always called on by the freedom that is part and parcel of our Buddha nature.”

I have no idea if Harriet was or was not an actual Bodhisattva, defined as someone who seeks to attain enlightenment to liberate each and every living being permanently from suffering. But as JW said, she was “very very brave. Very inspiring, indeed. She was as close to being a superhero as a real person could be.”

Harriet Tubman 20 dollar bill
May this come to be.
“Someone I can relate to”

Point is, Harriet was a “real” person, like us; which means we can be superheroes too. As JS was telling me, sometimes we read stories about great practitioners to discover that they were already fully realized and were just showing us an example – Buddha himself had already attained enlightenment, for example, and Je Tsongkhapa was Manjushri. Their stories are still incredibly faith inducing, but we need stories not just of ancient Mahasiddhas and Bodhisattvas back in India and Tibet and even in other world systems who did extraordinary things, but people nearer our time and experiences. Even though Harriet seemed to start off as a regular person like the rest of us, her courage and faith grew throughout her life. She was on a spiritual journey if anyone is. “This is someone I can relate to,” said JS. I think anyone who is interested in freedom can relate to this story.

Avoiding complacency

Harriet transformed fear on the one hand, but on the other she didn’t allow herself to be seduced by samsara’s comforts. She never let herself get too cozy or complacent even when she could have led a seemingly free life – she was not scared of discomfort.

And I don’t mind if I lose any blood on the way to salvation
And I’ll fight with the strength that I’ve got until I die. 

Man, I would love to be like that. As JS put it:

“I feel like I have a relationship with her – to see someone who looks like me develop the wish not to be enslaved, to take the Bodhisattva vow, to self-generate as someone through whom God is working, divine pride. She was not doing the bidding of the status quo, so when the relatively posh abolitionists, good people all (including Frederick Douglass), told her she couldn’t bring people 600 miles to Canada, she told them they were too comfortable and that they couldn’t tell her what not to do. Harriet took on actual engaging bodhichitta, as opposed to just saying the words. She had such conviction, there was no doubt in her mind that she could do this.

Speaking truth to power, it as is if Harriet was directly addressing us audience in the comfort of our own living rooms, never really having to do anything — instilling in us a sense of urgency and need. Frederick Douglass and co were indubitably brave people, but they were not willing to put as much on the line – they created a system, but she rescued people on her own, with the grace of God.”

Indeed, Douglass is quoted as saying to her:

The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. … The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.

Harriet’s choices of course did not make for an easy life.

Weight on my shoulders, a bullet in my gun. 

Still these heavy things are in my life, and I have to fight a fight to lift them, maybe she is saying. However, unlike me, Harriet never seemed to whine about having too much to do (to help people!) or to tightly guard her days off. She was driven by joyful effort.

Perhaps she saw everything as an opportunity to help others and to increase her faith, thereby having an amazingly meaningful life; and was grateful for it? I don’t know, but her behavior has struck me with the thought that this is a very good way to approach life’s to do lists — to start from a sense of being lucky and thankful.

I go to prepare a place for you

Harriet at end of lifeHarriet freed as many as 3,000 people from slavery, but her job was not done. Her marvelous last words, aged 91, were:

I go to prepare a place for you.

Temporary freedom, though clearly a lot better than slavery, is not good enough. Canada is no one’s final destination. Nowhere in samsara is. We need the permanent freedom that comes from a completely pure mind. I imagine Harriet Tubman went straight to her heaven or Pure Land through the force of her refuge and compassion, where to this day she is preparing it for others.

Ultimately, we need to aim at bringing everyone into the Pure Land of our own enlightenment. For at that time our mind will be, as it says in Praise to Buddha Shakyamuni:

A refuge for all living beings.

Thank you for reading all this! Comments welcome.

Key

Quotes in purple – original Harriet Tubman quotes.

Quotes in green – quotes from the movie Harriet.

Quotes in blue – quotes from the anthem Stand Up.

 

 

 

Becoming Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman’s goal is to “restore peace to the world”. Not sure that this world was ever that peaceful, but you get the point – we need world peace.

I got a lot out of the movie. It reinforced my understanding that this is not a good moment to be sitting around feeling hopeless and discouraged. There Wonder Woman-1isn’t time; too many people need help. So Wonder Woman, just out on DVD, is timely because, if we are paying attention, it can remind us of a more hopeful way of looking at the world and at ourselves. If you bear with me, I am now going to attempt a Buddhist take on Wonder Woman’s life and works… And I am more than happy for you to chip in with comments.

Buddha nature

Antiope, her aunt, the strongest Amazon warrior, said to Diana:

You keep doubting yourself, Diana. But you are stronger than you believe. You have greater power than you know.

It is the same for you reading this. This is not some corny throw-away movie line – we all have greater power inside us than we know. We all have a divine spark, akaBuddha nature. Each and every living being has both heroism and delusions within them – we are capable of becoming Wonder Woman/Wonder Man, or we can stay ordinary and weak, depending Wonder Woman don't go underon what we choose to focus upon.

It’s worth reminding ourselves too that this Buddha nature is indestructible, but our delusions are totally destructible. We will all attain enlightenment one day, so we may as well do it now and cut out all the mooching around in the middle. We have already been in samsara for way way way too long.

Who will I be if I stay?

Diana Prince left her childhood paradise on a beaten up boat without a backward glance: “I can not stand by while innocent lives are lost!” she said to her mother. This is similar to Prince Siddhartha, Atisha, and many other great luminaries of the past, who left their exquisite comfortable surroundings out of renunciation for their meaningless lives of luxury and the burning compassion to help others.

Queen Hippolyta: You know that if you choose to leave, you may never return.
Diana: Who will I be if I stay?

Later when Steve Trevor said, “I will save the day but you will save the world,” she had to let him go, she had to accept the sacrifice of his loss. We don’t have much option to hide in a domestic bubble when the world is burning and we are drawn to service. It reminds me that I cannot put my own comfort above that of countless living beings, for then “Who will I be?”

The power of love

Wonder Woman’s strength is her love and compassion. Against this, Ares, the god of war, the world leader, had no chance – even though he was far bigger and seemingly more powerful than her, she was able to glance his lightning back at him. Love is stronger than hate because it is a response to reality whereas hate arises from misconception and distortion.

loveThis is good to know at a time (2017-2018) when reason seems to be falling on granite, when regular people are up against a leviathan of self-interest and self-absorption in our world leaders. If we rely upon love and creativity, and above all don’t succumb to hopelessness, we will triumph.

It is love and compassion that ignited Diana’s super powers – she could have smitten Dr. Poison as she cowered beneath her, but instead she saw that Dr. Poison was not her delusions, and she let her go. It is love and compassion that will activate our Buddha nature too, our boundless potential for enlightenment.

By the way, Patty Jenkins directed this movie. Bring on more female directors, is what I say. Talking of why Diana Prince first becomes Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins says:

I say no to what you are all doing, how you are all living your life. I still love you. I’m still engaged with you. I still understand it’s complicated. But I say not to this. To shooting people from afar who you cannot see, I say no.

Emanations

Wonder Woman emanates as an ordinary woman in Paris, which is where we see her in the opening scenes. Wonder Woman walked amongst the land of crusty men (including British politicians), and — muttering away — they had no clue who she was. Emanations of holy beings are everywhere, usually disguised in ordinary forms. As it says in The New Guide to Dakini Land:

As ordinary beings with ordinary appearance we cannot experience anything as totally pure and perfect. Even an emanation of Buddha appears to us to have faults. It is because we have ordinary appearance that we view ourselves and others as imperfect – subject to faults such as sickness or ageing. ~ page 23

We have to do something

Wonder Woman sees a suffering woman in the WW1 trenches, and decides to cross the battlefield to save her village.

Steve: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.
Diana: So… what? So we do nothing?
Steve: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.

wonder woman patience

Then she runs onto the battlefield that no one has crossed. The German soldiers start to fire on her, but she deflects their bullets with her gauntlets, and uses her weapons and powers to free the town from suffering. And this encourages the rest of the group to risk their own lives to follow her.

It is a great example of compassion in action. Out of the intense wish to free living beings, Diana then engages in practical actions to fulfill this wish.

Diana: I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

We need the armor of patient acceptance that can handle the guns of ageing, sickness, death, and all the other daily stuff that comes up to frustrate us even when we are trying so hard to help others. Otherwise, the smallest bullet of suffering will knock us out. We need the sword of wisdom to cut down the delusions.

Our daily life is all about growing our super hero skills of the six perfections so that we can be of most benefit to others. And (see more below) we can grow all these a great deal faster through the practice of Buddhist Tantra, the quick path to enlightenment:

Vajrayogini’s body is in nature the perfection of wisdom of all the Buddhas. Her five mudra-ornaments of bone are the other five perfections of all the Buddhas. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127

motley crewWonder Woman’s motley crew are inspired by her example to live out their innate heroism too. As Steve Trevor put it:

My father told me once, he said, “If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something”. And I already tried nothing.

Living beings do deserve us

Ares told her: “They don’t deserve your protection!”

But in fact mankind does deserve her. All living beings deserve to be loved and helped by us. In the mind-training teachings of Buddhism we learn to see the kindness of all living beings as the very infrastructure of our life. They are also treasure chests of love, compassion, and all the other necessary qualities that we can only develop in dependence upon them:

Once we learn to value the inner wealth of patience, giving, love, and compassion above external conditions, we will come to regard each and every sentient being as supremely precious, no matter how they treat us. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness, page 77

Also, as Diana replies:

It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.

This is also true. It is up to us to choose love over judgment and more delusion. We can choose to focus on others’ faults or others’ good qualities – depending on whether we want to believe in delusions or in love. And although it is true that we are all mixed bags, it is also true that living beings are not their delusions but the victims of their delusions, so it makes more sense to put our faith in their actual pure nature.

War and anger

world peace

I write this as Members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), while accepting this year’s Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony in Oslo, said the planet’s destruction is “only one impulsive tantrum away.” And some military analysts are also predicting that we have a 50/50 chance of nuclear war with North Korea sometime in the next 3 months …

What the heck?!?! Wonder Woman is set in World War 1, the war that was supposedly “The War to End All Wars” but of course was not. This is because war is caused by anger and hatred, and these are still alive and well in the minds of living beings. Fear and anger and threatening Tweets lead to more of the same, until it spills out of control – we’ve all seen bar fights.

Steve: You don’t think I wish I could tell you that it was one bad guy to blame? It’s not! We’re all to blame!

That is why we need the heroism of compassion and wisdom. We need both to rely upon and become actual heroes and heroines, who take the fight where it really belongs, to the delusions. In the battle of good versus evil, it is not living being versus living being; it is all of us against the monsters in all our minds. We need to purify our minds.

futility of war anger

It is generally accepted in both Sutra and Tantra that the world appears to our mind as faulty, imperfect and unsatisfactory because our mind is impure – polluted by the delusions and their imprints. In Ornament for Clear Realization, Buddha Maitreya says that when the minds of sentient beings become completely pure, their environment becomes a Buddha’s Pure Land. ~ Guide to Dakini Land, page 23

Wonder Women in Buddhism

Buddha Vajrayogini is the greatest Wonder Woman of them all. And the best thing about her is that she is the embodiment of the bliss and emptiness of a completely purified mind, so we can all become her — become a Wonder Woman or a Wonder Man — through practicing the union of Buddhist Sutra and Tantra.

Through studying the correct view of emptiness we can understand that everything is merely an appearance to the mind and, like a dream, merely imputed by conceptual thought. This understanding is extremely helpful for developing conviction in the existence of (pure beings and) Pure Lands. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 25

There is so much to say about Vajrayogini, and if you are interested you can find out more by reading The New Guide to Dakini Land. We can practice these Tantric teachings in dependence upon some experience of renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom, as well as receiving a Tantric empowerment*.

Marvel’s Wonder Woman even looks a bit like Vajrayogini:

Her hair is black, symbolizing the unchangeable nature of her Truth Body. It falls freely down her back, symbolizing that she is free from the fetters of self-grasping.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127

Vajrayogini holds a curved knife rather than a sword, “to show her power to cut the cWonder Woman Vajrayoginiontinuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings.”

Vajrayogini stomps the three poisons under foot, in the aspect of worldly gods (not unlike Ares) – attachment, anger, and ignorance have no sway over her. When dealing with our own delusions, we’d be as well to remember that – we start on the right footing then, as it were, with the self-confidence, “I will conquer my delusions, they will never conquer me.”

The ultimate super hero, Vajrayogini possesses omniscient wisdom, the bliss and emptiness of her completely purified mind pervading all phenomena, including us:

Her three eyes symbolize her ability to see everything in the past, present and future.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 126

Self-generation as Vajrayogini enables us to hold it all together in the meditation break, aka most of our lives, when we are not absorbed in meditation. We cannot always be in single-pointed concentration on the source of everything, namely bliss and emptiness, because we have to get up and get practical. But Vajrayogini is the embodiment of bliss and emptiness, as well as of all Sutra and Tantra realizations, appearing in this dynamic form to help and bless others as we move through our day — a living, breathing Wonder Woman.art-vy8-frnt_3

The practice of Vajrayogini quickly brings blessings, especially during this spiritually degenerate age. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 8

Our mission

I have seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they’ll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.

This can be our mission, too – is there any reason why not? A lot of things these days seem to be making my superior intention kick in whether I like it or not – whether the sadness in people’s expressions, tragedies in my own family, the endless bad news for humans, animals, and our planet, or just the sound of passing sirens. Everyone is suffering. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang has said, we only need to “open our eyes” to see that. 

What we need right now is armies of Bodhisattva, armies of heroes and heroines. Let’s just do it! As Venerable Geshe Kelsang once said at a Festival:

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys enemies.

I love to think of the activities of my fellow Sangha and all those heroes and heroines everywhere who seem to be striving more than ever to change the world’s direction. Together, I know we can make all the difference. Let’s not waste too much more time giving into our selfishness, attachment, self-pity, aversions, or other delusions, except when we really have to! Let’s make our lives epic in the service of others instead.

Conclusion

25360543_1747094635343269_1308743401_n-1Our world is in trouble but the situation is not hopeless. We need to inspire each other to hope and courage as they did in the movie – that bedraggled, disparate and, to begin with, self-centered group did amazing things once they were inspired. They saved the day. Despair, complacency, or personal escapism is not an option. We need to remember that we are battling not each other but the ignorance, hatred, and attachment in all our minds – it is a battle for hearts and minds, as they say, and that battle will be won with the weapons of Dharma.

*Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments are coming up in 2018 in Mexico March 29 – April 5 and the UK in July-August.

 

 

Disney’s movie Chimpanzee ~ “There is meaning in those eyes.”

I watched the movie Chimpanzee last night with my friends Anya and her two great kids, Zia (12) and Tom Tom (10). We wanted to see it before May 3rd as Disneynature are donating some of the profits this week to the Jane Goodall Institute.

(Spoiler alert: I knew the plot before I watched the movie and it made no difference, but you could always go see the movie first and then read this.)

Oscar and Isha in the movie ChimpanzeeOscar is Isha’s child, and the early part of the movie shows his first years growing up under her doting care, learning how to smash nuts with the right tools and goofing around with his friends while she tries vainly to sleep. (Anya related to all these early scenes.) He looks so human, they all do. (Or we look like chimps.) His chest and rib cage looks like a little hairy boy’s chest and rib cage. His hands are like our hands. And his face is expressive, by turns curious, amused, playful, soulful.

When the film-makers started the movie, they didn’t know that his mother would be killed. But she is injured by the patriarch Scar and his army of chimpanzee rivals from over the Ridge in the rainforests of the Ivory Coast, in a raid on their nut grove. Isha becomes separated from her family, and is picked off by a leopard (this being Disney, the gruesome scenes are only hinted at.)

Oscar on his own in the movie Chimpanzee

Tiny Oscar looks for her everywhere. As the days go by, he becomes thinner and thinner, and covered with ticks because no one is grooming him. He tries to stick his little arm into a bees’ hive, but it isn’t long enough to reach the honey, and he just gets stung. He tugs at all the other mothers, asking for help, but they have infants of their own and growl him away. Even his friends are not playing with him like they used to. Oscar is alone.

At this point, I had read beforehand, the film-makers thought their movie was over. But then something extraordinary happens. The only person Oscar has not approached, and with good reason, is Freddy, the enormous gruff alpha male. When Oscar does finally pluck up the courage to approach, Freddy surprisingly lets him sit near him, and Oscar starts to watch and learn.

Oscar follows Freddy everywhere, and from his side Freddy develops more and more interest in Oscar, until he is giving him the choice portions of the food he finds and prepares. And then one day Freddy lets him ride on his back, something that a male chimp never does, and certainly not the Big Boss who has a reputation to maintain.

Oscar and Freddy in the movie Chimpanzee

The movie shows that over the coming days and weeks Freddy becomes devoted to Oscar. He grooms him, something usually reserved for those higher in the hierarchy, not the weakest member of the group who has nothing to offer in return; and he even lets Oscar sleep in his arms. He adopts Oscar, and Oscar is saved. The movie has a happy ending, thanks to love.

Life in that world is not easy, and there are no final happy endings in samsara. The rival gang of hungry chimps, seen off once thanks to Freddy’s teamwork, will be back. The chimps still have to hunt other monkeys for food — monkeys intelligent enough to realize they’ve been ambushed and that there is no escape from being ripped limb from limb (also hinted at, not shown.) The photography and scenery in the movie is spectacular, including scenes set in slow and fast motion, but beneath that seemingly enchanting cloud-wrapped canopy of trees lies a very traumatic world, none of whose inhabitants ever feels truly safe.

Spending over an hour in the company of chimps in this movie helps us see how similar to us they are in many ways – in terms of their wishes and fears, their maternal love, their cleverness at using tools to prepare food, the importance of teamwork to survival, their cultivated social relationships, their rivalry and violence, and their bodies. And Freddy’s unexpected reaction to Oscar, in particular, shows a remarkable, selfless love. No one could argue that this love is merely instinctive, because it does Freddy’s standing in the group no good when, preoccupied with Oscar, he is unable to cultivate his allies or patrol his borders. It works out okay for him as it happens, but he didn’t know this when he fell for the small bundle of love.

This movie is a good testimony to how animals can share with us the same emotions, feelings, ability to learn, sociability, and even self-awareness. They are in a lower realm, and they don’t have the opportunity to develop spiritually in this lifetime, but they have minds, they think and feel, and their Buddha nature is no different to ours. They are not mere bodies with instincts, devoid of sentience or thought, as many people claim in justification for treating them badly or as less than people.

“There is meaning in those eyes”

Oscar's eyes in the movie ChimpanzeeI saw an interview with some of the film-makers, who spent up to three years in the jungle with the chimps, and here are some of their remarks:

People watching this movie “can understand that the chimps’ potential and relationships are as watchable as a human drama.”

“Why did Freddy adopt Oscar? It was pure altruism. It was selfless looking after the young orphan where he hasn’t got an agenda.”

“When those eyes look out at you from a massive screen, there is meaning in those eyes, and we as human beings connect to them.”

“The chimps are very endangered, the rain forest is being cut down, they are part of the bush meat trade, living in fragmented patches of forest, threatened with extinction.”

“[The audience are] going to see that we are not the only beings with personalities and minds capable of thought.” ~ Jane Goodall.

By the way, for the parents amongst you, I can report that Tom Tom turned to us in the middle and whispered loudly, “I LOVE this movie!” Both kids pretended to be chimps after the auditorium emptied, running and jumping through the aisles, and even their own mother said she could not see that much difference between them and Oscar… ; – )

In Buddhism, person, being, self, and I are synonyms. Human beings are just one type of person. That has always made sense to me.

And my question to anyone who watches this and sees Oscar’s eyes is:

Who can believe that he is not a person? 

Here are some interesting links to other chimpanzee and primate stories:

chimps taste freedom for the first time in 30 yearsIf only they could all be freed. Chimpanzees see sunlight for the first time in 30 years.

Are animals smarter than people?

Do monkeys wonder? BBC do monkeys wonder


Who deserves credit for Kung Fu Panda 2 and the rest of our life?!

Po’s father

I went to Kung Fu Panda 2 3D yesterday with my father. (He insisted!! Or perhaps that was me?!) Either way, it was even better than I thought it would be – both entertaining and inspirational. I will write an article on it soonish but, before I do, I want to start at the end. Which is also the beginning…

Remembering the kindness of others

At the end of the movie, the closing credits rolled for many minutes; page after page of people who were responsible for writing, directing, producing, filming, editing, designing, composing, visual effects, animating, modeling, supervising, engineering, and all round awesomeness!!

Thousands of people were kind enough to bring this one and a half hour movie into creation for our enjoyment. We may even notice and acknowledge a few of them, e.g. Jack Black and Angelina Jolie 🙂 But though I decided this time to stay to the very end, everyone else in the auditorium had left long before the credits finished rolling.

Thousands of people are also involved in bringing an hour and a half of our regular life into creation too – in fact we are dependent upon the kindness of thousands of people at any given moment. We may even notice a few of them, at least every now and then, and if they are obvious enough!

People left the cinema the moment the action stopped most likely because where the action actually came from didn’t seem sufficiently relevant to them, and besides they had things to do and their own lives to get on with. In a similar way, in our busy lives, in our personal worlds, with our own individual priorities and conceptual thoughts, it is rare to acknowledge everyone who has been involved one way or another in giving us literally everything we need to live moment by moment. Our self-grasping ignorance is in fact telling us that we are independent and don’t depend that much on others, that we are somehow self-made, that our world revolves around us as the main protagonist with everyone else being a bit player.

Take this moment. Perhaps you feel that you are moreorless alone in it, reading this – you’re not bothering anyone and likewise no one is bothering you. We’re all somehow separate. But if we look carefully we see that we are never alone and that every breath, every thought, every cell comes entirely from others.

You are looking at this on a screen on some magical electronic gadget, which in itself is the result of the imagination and work of many thousands of people; and the infrastructure that supported them involved many more people. You are able to read this because people taught you to read and because you have eyes that depend on your parents and on all the food and medicines you’ve taken throughout your life to keep you alive. I’ll assume you’re wearing clothes, which if you check the labels you will see come from people all over the world and the families who support them. And so on, ad infinitum.

Even our ability to contribute depends on the kindness of many others. For example, our education, our money, our skills, our job, our audience, our supporters and our responsibilities only exist due to the kindness, generosity and willingness of others. When we find ourself in a responsible or exalted position, it is easy to develop a pride thinking that we are rather special and higher up because others depend upon us, not the other way round. But the fact is that the more we are in a position to contribute, the more we depend upon them, even as the objects of our contribution, and therefore the more cause for humility we have. If they were to withdraw their support, our infrastructure would crumble and we would be nothing. So we might as well get off the fragile pedestal constructed by our pride and join everyone else on level ground. (It’s more fun down here anyway 😉

It is rare to be grateful for more than a fraction of the kindness we have received from others. The kindness of others is not new information – it becomes obvious as soon as we take anything more than a superficial egotistical glance at the apparently solid uncaused infrastructure of our lives! There is a meditation in Buddhism called remembering the kindness of others. We only need to remember something if we’ve forgotten it in the first place. You can learn this meditation in Modern Buddhism, now available completely free, no strings attached, as an e-Book due to the kindness of the author and, one way or another, the actions of thousands of other people past and present:

We are able to make use of many things with very little effort on our own part. If we consider facilities such as roads, cars, trains, airplanes, ships, houses, restaurants, hotels, libraries, hospitals, shops, money and so on, it is clear that many people worked very hard to provide these things. Even though we make little or no  contribution towards the provision of these facilities, they are all available for us to use. This shows the great kindness of others. Both our general education and our spiritual training are provided by others. (p 67 ff)

If we had a closing credit for each moment of our lives, it’d be at least as impossible to keep up with reading all the names as it was in Kung Fu Panda.

The Kadampa Temple for World Peace, Sarasota, Florida

The other day I attended the Florida New Kadampa Tradition temple opening. For nine years I was very much involved at that center, during which time the temple project was started and much money was raised. The Je Tsongkhapa statues were imported, painted and filled, and the five lineages of Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden created from scratch by talented artists at Manjushri KMC, and dedicated from the start to KMC Florida. I and many others prayed every day for a long time for this temple to arise.

Young Jin No (foreground)

However I have been living elsewhere for the past three years, during which time the temple was constructed under the expert building direction of Young Jin No, an old student who had previously built another center in Florida. She showed me around, no detail too small to rejoice in.

offerings of light

The temple is magnificent. There is no doubt that the modern day Kadampa master Geshe Kelsang has given the Sunshine State the most outrageously wonderful gift. And thousands of man and woman hours have also gone into it. It depends entirely upon millions of causes created both in this life and no doubt in previous lives – take any one of those causes away and this particular temple would not exist. Apart from making prayers and rejoicing, I myself have been out of it for the past three years, during which time new people have become involved who don’t know me from Adam. This is true of a number of people who were previously entirely instrumental in the temple even in this life, not to mention previous lives! But although only a few people may now recognize our contribution, I realized during the opening ceremony that not one of the causes we created was lost. And that even if there had been a closing credit of us and everyone else who has ever helped bring this temple into existence, no one would have been much interested anyway – for how interested are we really in the people who built our house, made our roads, taught us at school, and so on?! Isn’t that ancient history?! Are we not mainly just interested in how we can personally use these things now, in the present?!

From my own side, it has always seemed a bit pointless seeking praise or reputation, or being upset and demoralized when I am ignored, misunderstood or criticized. I have found it far more constructive and rewarding to concern myself with developing positive states of mind and good karmic intentions. Being attached to praise and reputation are so-called “worldly concerns” that do nothing to help us overcome our pride and self-cherishing, which is why the great Kadampa mind-training master Atisha famously declared in his Advice:

“Words of praise and fame serve only to beguile us, therefore blow them away as you would blow your nose.”

(BTW, have you ever noticed how Geshe Kelsang blows his nose during the long-life prayer done for him at festivals?!)

On the other hand, remembering and acknowledging what others have done and do for us right down to the cellular level is a supremely powerful method for breaking us out of our own little worlds by seeing how dependent on others we actually are. Other people are, in fact, not bit players but the main protagonists in our life, deserving at least equal billing! This wisdom understanding interdependence gives us humility, gratitude and loving-kindness, and the wish to repay their kindness. It makes us happy and peaceful.

So me and dad stayed right to the end of Kung Fu Panda 2 and I mentally thanked everyone whose names were appearing on the screen — right down to the technical resource tester and post-production office supervisor — for the enjoyment they had given us! Moreover, though there was no visible screen of rolling credits at KMC Florida, I felt grateful the whole weekend I was there; and as a result I had a blast!

There is nothing to stop me or you from remembering the kindness of others every day, every moment, of our lives. Your comments, including how you do this meditation, are very welcome. And please share this article if you like it.

What’s stopping us from dissolving everything into emptiness?!

As quoted in this previous article, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says that if we have some experience of emptiness:

Geshe Kelsang at Madhymaka Centre, early 1980s

“Everything becomes very peaceful and comfortable, balanced and harmonious, joyful and wonderful.”

Countless meditators before us have had this experience and there seems to be no reason to think that Buddha or our kind teachers are just making this up. Once we’ve had teachings on emptiness, we do generally get the sense that it is the answer to all our problems, don’t we? Also, while compassion is arising strongly it is a major motivator for realizing emptiness, as I saw when looking after Ralph the kitten.

So my question is, “Why don’t we just go for it?”

A lot of you answered this question on the previous article, thank you.

Samsara or freedom?

I think the major reason we don’t go for it in earnest — a reason even underlying our other reasons and sabotaging our compassion — is because we are attached to inherently existent things. We don’t particularly like the idea of our house, for example, being burnt up in the fire of exalted wisdom. We’ve worked years for that house and we really quite like it! We need it! We want it to be real. Not to mention our partner, our children, our enjoyments, our vacation, our money… Have you ever lost your wallet? This is a very significant absence. We don’t like it. Why would we want to meditate on the absence of inherent existence of our wallet and everything else?!

“Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill?”

In the first Matrix movie, Cypher wants to return to the unreal world of false appearances because he is attached to it. Cutting up a juicy steak in a restaurant in the Matrix (of mistaken appearance) with Agent Smith (self-grasping ignorance), he ruminates that he knows the steak is merely the simulation telling his brain that it is delicious and juicy, but after nine years he has discovered that “ignorance is bliss.” He strikes a deal with the enemy Agent Smith because he wants to be rich and powerful, “an actor” maybe.

Years ago I saw a Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk entered a dream-like world. He knew he was dreaming and he had control over his dream, but he didn’t like it. He spent the whole episode trying to get back to “real” life. He could not enjoy the creative freedom of being able to make up his own world, and the movie supported his view that it is better if things are solidly real.

And I’ve often wondered why brilliant Western scientists who have delved into quantum physics for a lifetime haven’t realized emptiness directly. (I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that most haven’t). They seem so close — they have almost entirely de-constructed an objective world. But they haven’t got to the point of acknowledging that, no matter how much money they spend on particle accelerators blowing tinier and tinier things up, they will never find the ultimate constituent of the universe. Why? Because there isn’t one. There is nothing out there, not even the smallest gluon, tachyon, or neutrino. Everything is projected by mind (even mind itself).

Granted, this is just my theory, but I think they’ll keep looking because they are attached to an inherently or objectively existent universe. They don’t want to dismantle it entirely because they’re attached to it being real. (Their assumption is also part of the Western creator view of a first beginning and a final end, but that’s another story.)

Buddha’s teachings are so clear on the subject – I think it could be easier and quicker to realize emptiness than spend a lifetime becoming an expert in quantum mechanics, string theory, parallel universes and so on! Yogis — who are experts in the field of the mind and of emptiness — are free and blissful all the time. Therefore, Buddha is not just positing a theory, for what he says has worked in practice for millenia to free the mind. Scientists, on the other hand, are as brainy as can be, but are also as neurotic as the rest of us.

We need renunciation, the mind of liberation

Buddha said that a pre-requisite for realizing emptiness directly is the non-attachment of renunciation. That is the only way we can enter a supramundane spiritual path – without at least renunciation we will remain trapped in samsara indefinitely. Some people wonder why we need renunciation – why, if we are intelligent, can’t we realize emptiness first and then develop aversion for samsara?! After all, the teachings on emptiness can seem more fun to begin with.

However, I think this is only because we’re not clear what it is we are actually renouncing. Yes, we are renouncing the places, enjoyments and bodies of samsara, but this is because we apprehend them as inherently existent. What we are actually renouncing is the ignorance in our minds.

We are renouncing, or wishing to give up, our self-grasping ignorance apprehending inherent existence because we know that it is the source of all our other delusions such as anger and attachment, and of all our suffering. If we are renouncing the mind of ignorance, we are also renouncing the object of that mind – inherently existent things. We want neither the conception nor the appearance of inherent existence any more, whatever these are associated with – nice things or nasty things. That is real renunciation, it seems to me.

And it is the minimum motivation we need for realizing emptiness. With it, we are delighted to spend time in emptiness, dissolving mistaken appearances away. Without it, we are at best half-hearted. And we just want to go lay on the real beach, followed by a real juicy steak, and a movie.

nobody can make us happy…

Unless we start developing some non-attachment for inherent existence, we’ll be lucky just to get glimpses of the possibilities of the spiritual path. Through blessings and/or good karmic imprints, we may have one or two good meditation sessions — letting go and abiding in a peace we’ve never experienced the like of before. But then due to our habitual attachment we will allow ourself to cling again to inherent existence, thinking of it as innocuous or even desirable.

Do you agree? (Especially the scientists among you who are reading this?!)

Kung Fu Panda and the Secret Ingredient

Buddha teaches that everything is projected by our mind; and of course this is clear when it comes to movies! But we like to be drawn into them as we like a good story, just as we usually allow ourselves to be sucked up by the drama of our own lives even if we know it is not real.

For me movies can be a time-wasting distraction or they can be helpful. It depends on whether I’m watching them out of some delusion/unpeaceful mind such as attachment or laziness, or out of some positive motivation such as the wish to expand my horizons to empathize with others.

Nothing is completely untransformable if we have the wish, capacity and methods to do it – even violent movies could be seen as a battle against delusions. Of course, it is risky to watch movies that may engender unpeaceful, uncontrolled reactions such as hatred or anger in us, so it is worth being honest to ourselves about our level of mindfulness and our ability to transform appearances to stay peaceful. It is worth protecting ourselves by not straying over certain boundaries (as in the practice of moral discipline).

If we’re going to watch a movie, some movies are probably easier for us to transform and derive meaning from than others, and I personally count Kung Fu Panda as an example. I watched it on the airplane and found a lot of uplifting Buddhist teachings in it. So I thought I’d share a few seeing as Kung Fu Panda 2 is coming out on May 26 and no doubt some of you will be watching it, especially if you have the excuse of kids!

Masters and students

My favorite theme is the transformative relationships between the Masters and their students. The Panda Po says to Master Shifu, “You are not my master!”, but that changes when he believes he can learn to be a great Kung Fu warrior and that Master Shifu can teach him. Similarly, we only need a Spiritual Guide if we decide we want to follow in his footsteps along a spiritual path.

Shifu maintains great devotion to his own Master Oogway, even when he seems to be behaving erratically and appointing a very odd choice for the Dragon Warrior. He questions his Master but listens carefully to his replies and is inspired by them. “Obeying the master is not a weakness” says Shifu to the snow leopard Tai Lung. Tai Lung shows the treacherous contrast of what happens if we let our pride and self-cherishing run out of control, and how feeling superior to our own teacher inevitably ends up sooner or later in hubristic disaster.

What can we control?

Master Oogway says we have to accept that we cannot control everything. Shifu replies that we can control some things and shows this by hitting the Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom to get the peaches to fall and planting a peach seed from which a tree will grow. Master Oogway points out that we can only get a peach tree not an apple tree from that seed, teaching the definite relationship between cause and effect (karma). But then he shows the manner of passing away into the Dharmakaya Truth Body by dissolving into emptiness, showing that for whom emptiness is possible, anything is possible, as the famous Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna said.

Just believe

Po is lumbering and clumsy, at least for as long as he identifies with “me”, a limited self, in his case a big fat lazy Panda. But he doesn’t want to be “me” any more, he wants to change. And Master Oogway gives both Master Shifu and Po the confidence to believe in Po’s ability to do it, and believing is what we need to do if we are to let go of our ego, fulfill our potential and make spiritual progress. (However, unlike in the movie, we are all “chosen”). And Master Shifu also realizes there can be no cookie cutter approach to teaching one’s students, especially these days. The teacher and student sometimes need to think out of the box and find other ways, even if these are unconventional (and involve dumplings).

Humility

Po’s humility is what enables him to succeed. He has an ingenuousness and zest for life that is very refreshing for the five great and good warriors who have gotten slightly institutionalized and by the book in the Jade Palace. Po is down to earth and unobsequious but at the same time entirely and humbly in awe of Kung Fu and its masters. For me he was an example of staying fresh on our spiritual path, devoted to the teachings, teachers and living beings but not rigidly going through the motions, becoming sycophantic and/or developing a superiority complex in an ivory tower. We need discipline, but we also need lightness of touch and the ability to respect each others’ differences.

Even at the end when Po has defeated Tai Lung and the whole valley are prostrating to him and chanting “Master”, he doesn’t develop a trace of pride or identify with that praise. That word simply reminds him of his own master, so he turns around and rushes back up the steps to see him.

What is the secret ingredient?

And the other thing is that Po realizes something very important when he enters the mystery of the dragon scroll – he does not need to add anything at all from the outside to fulfill his potential. As his father, the goose Mr. Ping, finally confides about his Secret Ingredient Soup, the secret ingredient is …. that there is no secret ingredient! We don’t need a secret ingredient. We don’t need to be someone “special”. We all have the potential already to be great. This is our Buddha nature.

Movies and us

Okay, I know, I have read far too much into this movie! And a cartoon to boot! But I guess that’s the point; we can and do see anything anywhere because nothing is really out there, it is all projection of our own minds. I cannot find a world outside of my experience of the world, and when I change my mind, my world itself automatically changes. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, my own Master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:

Milarepa said that he regarded everything that appeared to his mind as a Dharma book. All things confirmed the truth of Buddha’s teachings and increased his spiritual experience.

So, if we are going to watch movies, we might as well make them into spiritual teachings!

Have you got a favorite example?

By the way, if you want a free Buddhist meditation book from a world-renowned Buddhist master and author, you are in luck! Click here: www.eModernBuddhism.com